How to Work BetterPeter Fischli David Weiss
at Guggenheim Museum

New York,
5 February – 20 April, 2016

Peter Fischli David Weiss: How To Work Better, introduced by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, is the first comprehensive survey in New York of the remarkable 33-Year artistic career between Peter Fischli (B. 1952) and David Weiss (1946–2012). The exhibition presents the dynamic collaboration between the Swiss artists, who probed the idea of dualistic thinking, as a result of the dialogue they sustained over the course of their partnership. Through a witty and profound appropriation of cultural genres, their creative practice explores our grasp of reality and offers a deeper meditation on our perceptions of everyday life. The pair consistently examined western culture’s reliance on contraries.
In one way or another, everything they produced playfully unravels what the artists understood to be “popular opposites” – labor versus leisure, fiction versus reality, kitsch versus beauty, and the banal versus the sublime. The artists embodied this approach in their alter egos, Rat and Bear, who appear as equal partners in their various misadventures as the early films The Least Resistance (1980–81) and Rat and Bear (Sleeping) (2008). The talented couple avoided the authoritative voice of the artist and acted instead as fanciful philosophers who meditate all questions, great and small.
No inquiry was too extraordinary or too trivial, whether metaphysical or empirical, as it could be observed in works such as Large Question Pot (1984) and the series Question Projections (2000– 2003), which features phrases like (“Is it true that traces of aliens have been found in yogurt?”) and (“Is everything meaningless?”). Many of their projects take the form of vast archives that resemble personal encyclopedias, accumulated over decades with little distinction made between the important and the common.
The exhibition includes slide-show presentations of postcard-like tourist views from works like Airports (1987–2012) and Visible World (1986–2012). When not documenting the world around them, the creative couple played with signs and symbols for that world.
In their first project, Sausage Series (1979), the artists emulated vignettes from classical paintings and popular culture in photographed compositions of lunch meats and household items. Rubber Sculptures (1986–88/2005–06) and Cars (1988) bring increasing attention to the products that populate daily life. This impulse culminated in various polyurethane installations (1991) that cleverly subvert the Duchampian readymade with painstakingly hand-carved copies of ordinary objects ranging from table lamps, cassette tapes, and pizza boxes to paint cans, wood scraps, and tools taken from the artists’ studio.
These surrogates are simple reminders of a much more complicated existence that become holes in our perception. They often spoke about their deliberate “misuse” of time and materials.
In the series of photographs titled Equilibres (A Quiet Afternoon) (1984–86) and their renowned video The Way Things Go (1987), the pair recorded unlikely balancing acts and chemical reactions that animated the most mundane of objects in ballets of absolute precariousness.
The artists created systems fated to fail and found delight in the entropic beauty of imminent collapse. As contemporary alchemists, Fischli and Weiss transformed the ordinary into something that is decisively not.

 

“Is it true that traces of aliens have been found in yogurt?” from – Large Question Pot (1984)